Event planners grapple with fee hikes

Western Welcome Week, city events to go on as planned despite increased permit costs

Posted 6/11/19

With fingers still being pointed over the cancellation of Littleton’s annual Block Party, some of the city’s biggest event planners are concerned about the impact of increased event fees from …

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Event planners grapple with fee hikes

Western Welcome Week, city events to go on as planned despite increased permit costs

Posted

With fingers still being pointed over the cancellation of Littleton’s annual Block Party, some of the city’s biggest event planners are concerned about the impact of increased event fees from South Metro Fire Rescue, Littleton’s new firefighting force.

Block Party organizer Greg Reinke announced in May that he was cancelling the shindig, which was scheduled for June 9, citing a cumbersome permitting process and what he called exorbitant permit fees.

“I didn’t want to gamble with other people’s money,” Reinke said.

Reinke isn’t the only one feeling the pinch.

“As a nonprofit, we have a tight budget,” said Cindy Hathaway, executive director of Western Welcome Week, Littleton’s biggest annual bash.

Hathaway previously paid $150 for both a special event and fireworks permit, she said, but this year she’s on the hook for about $1,600.

“We’re soliciting sponsors to help cover the extra expenses,” Hathaway said. “It’s not just the permit fees, though. Expenses in general are climbing. We’ll need the community’s support.”

Western Welcome Week will go on as planned later this summer, Hathaway said, with few changes from previous years.

The City of Littleton, which hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including the Criterium bike race and Little Jam concert series, is also dealing with the fee hikes, said city spokesperson Kelli Narde.

“We’re incurring additional expenses, no question,” Narde said. “South Metro is inspecting things we haven’t had inspected in the past.”

The city is likely to pay an additional $16,000 in permit fees this year, Narde said.

Narde said she plans to ask South Metro to lower its fees.

“For this year it won’t have an effect (on city events),” Narde said. “But if those fees are not modified, I’ll have to ask for an increase in the event budget for 2020.”

Paying the price

Littleton still did what it could to support the Block Party, Narde said. She pushed back against Reinke’s accusation that the city imposed unreasonable demands for portable toilets and handwashing stations, saying that Reinke’s initial permit application, which said expected attendance was 20,000, mandated a high number of portable toilets.

“But our best crowd estimates for previous Block Parties was 6,000 to 8,000, and we gave him a waiver allowing him to use about 20 toilets, which is the same number he’s used every year in the past,” Narde said.

Littleton’s old $150 permit fee was inadequate to recover costs of inspecting and protecting special events, Narde said, but the city kept fees low in part to support community events.

South Metro charges a $1,079 fee to inspect and protect a fireworks display, according to a fee schedule published on its website, and $464 for a special event permit.

The fireworks permit covers a host of services, said South Metro spokesperson Kristin Eckmann, including a Fire Marshal’s Office plan review, pre-event inspection, oversight during the display, suppression unit standby and post-event inspection the morning following the display.

“These fees are what are charged throughout our district and apply to all municipalities we serve,” Eckmann said in an email.

West Metro Fire Rescue, which covers the western portion of the Denver metro area, charges $750 for a permit for a large fireworks display, according to an online fee schedule, and $225 for a large outdoor event permit.

Denver Fire charges $350 for a fireworks permit, according to an online fee schedule, though its fees are far more piecemeal than West Metro and South Metro, and include numerous smaller fees for things like post-event inspections, the number of tents and booths at an event, or an hourly fee for permit review.

South Metro is open to talk to stakeholders about its fees, Eckmann said.

“Periodically we evaluate our fees, and we do plan on looking at our current adopted philosophy of our special events fees later this year, at which point we will have a discussion with our board to determine our direction for next year,” Eckmann said in an email.

In the meantime, event planners are working with South Metro to iron out any other kinks that may arise.

“South Metro has been working with me,” Hathaway said. “After Greg (Reinke) cancelled, I went in and had a sit-down with them — I took my maps and showed them what we do, and we were both willing to make adjustments for each other.”

South Metro will only require minor tweaks, Hathaway said, such as more breaks between canopy tents that line Main Street during the parade.

‘We’re all in the same boat’

The Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants Association, of which Reinke is president, is hopeful that the Block Party can come back next year, said board member Korri Stainbrook.

“We didn’t take the cancellation lightly,” said Stainbrook, adding that the decision was ratified by a unanimous vote of the board. “We take some of the blame. We got started too late, and we just assumed the permitting process would be about the same. As good event planners, we should have started looking at this in January. It would have been nice to have more communication, but these are the same fees they charge everyone.”

The Merchants Association is seeing declining membership, Stainbrook said, and it’s becoming harder to get members to participate in planning events like the Block Party.

“In some ways, we’re a victim of our own success,” Stainbrook said, as restarateurs on Main Street are increasingly too busy handling their own packed houses to jump in on promotional events.

The silver lining to the cancellation, Stainbrook said, is that it’s a chance to draw more help for future events.

“People don’t realize how much time and money it costs to throw that event,” Stainbrook said. “We need more community support. We need Littleton businesses and restaurants to stay committed to it.”

Collaboration will be key to ensuring Littleton’s slate of events succeed in the face of changes, Reinke said.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “We all have to row together, or we don’t go anywhere.”

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